Review: ‘Amy and the Orphans’ — a Confusing Road Trip
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, March 9, 2018
Sometimes I get stuck on the details.
Like how a brother and sister well into their sixties (he says he’s 60 but I don’t buy it) can have a sister who appears to be in her early thirties. Or how said brother and sister were young children in the 1970s. And how the younger sister could have been committed to an institution in the 1970s but now, forty years later, is only in her early thirties.
It doesn’t add up. And unfortunately, in this story of a brother and sister who reconnect with the younger sister they have not seen in many years, a lot doesn’t add up.
Amy has Down syndrome, as does the woman who plays her, Jamie Brewer. (At certain performances the play becomes Andy and the Orphans and the title character is played by Edward Barbanell.) She is based on the playwright’s Aunt Amy, who also spent most of her life institutionalized. The play is an attempt to understand how Aunt Amy’s parents could have abandoned their child to the neglect and cruelty of a state-run institution.
Those parents are also part of the story, played in flashback by Diane David and Josh McDermitt. We meet them in couples counseling, where the focus is—surprise!—the decision that will send Amy to an institution in the first place.
Older brother Jacob and sister Maggie, played by Mozart in the Jungle pals Mark Blum and Debra Monk, are sitcom-sized nervous wrecks, with trying-too-hard neuroses. He juices (everything) and wears braces. She mistakes a trapped Skittle for a tumor. “We’re orphans!” shrieks Maggie. Repeatedly. She’s anxious, he’s uptight. And then there’s Kathy, Amy’s heavily pregnant caregiver who insists on joining them for the road trip to memorialize their recently deceased father. She’s mostly loud and irritating, without much of a reason for tagging along on the trip to the funeral other than shaming Maggie and Jacob with how close she is to Amy.
The play has heart, and great performances, but it’s trying too hard and veers from genuinely funny to comedy that misses its target to heartfelt confrontations that don’t always feel legitimate—or moving. Is it a comedy? A family drama? A character-driven road trip? All three, and not quite anything. It just doesn’t add up.
Amy and the Orphans presented by Roundabout Theater Company at the Laura Pels Theater at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater, 111 West 46th Street. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission. Performances through April 22, 2018. Written by Lindsey Ferrentino. Directed by Scott Ellis; set design by Rachel Hauck; costume design by Alejo Vietti; lighting design by Kenneth Posner; sound and original compositions by John Gromada. Cast: Vanessa Aspillaga, Mark Blum, Jamie Brewer, Diane Davis, Josh McDermitt, and Debra Monk.
Cover: (l. to r.) Vanessa Aspillaga, Jamie Brewer, Debra Monk and Mark Blum in ‘Amy and the Orpharns;’ photo: Joan Marcus.